Recycle Print

After I made my own recycled paper I had to do something with it… Well, the plan was to print on it! So I did. I used my (recently built) printing press to print a recycle symbol on the paper… which seemed fitting, since it is recycled paper.

I really love how this turned out. One of the things about printmaking is, you need paper. I remember when I started experimenting with printing and was told “Two words: Rives BFK” and yeah, you know what? That shit’s expensive!

I get that to make high quality prints you need high quality materials, but I’m also cheap, and I love doing what I can with low-cost materials. I’m using water based inks because they are cheap and easy to use (and clean up in my slop sink) and I do get some paper that isn’t total crap sometimes, but I’m also going to use cheap material sometimes because art should be accessible. But…

The more I think about it, the more I want to just make my own paper using the stuff we already recycle at our house. We shred plenty of paper, and toss a lot in the recycle bin, so why not put it to use? I think making my own (recycled) paper and then printing on it makes perfect sense.


Making Paper

Hey, I made some paper! To be more precise, I made recycled paper using scrap paper from my own home. I remember facilitating an event years ago at the museum where we had people make paper, but it was one of those things where I was so busy running things I didn’t actually get to make anything. So a few years later (and with my renewed printmaking efforts) I figured it was time to make my own paper.

And if you’re interested in the whole process, there’s a ton of information online, and plenty of videos on YouTube. I watched a bunch, and while I didn’t follow any one of them exactly, I got close enough to get some good results for the first try. I bought a tub, strainer, and sponges from a dollar store, found a piece of scrap screen from a window, and then I made my own mold and deckle.

This is one of those things where if you’ve got a wood shop and scrap wood and that sort of stuff, cranking out the mold and deckle would be quick and easy… Since I don’t really have access to those thing I figured I would 3D print them. I designed the two parts so I could embed magnets into the corners to help hold them together while in use. It mostly worked. I may tweak a few things in the next revision.

I printed the parts on the Prusa MINI and they’re about 160mm square, so the paper I made is just slightly smaller than that, probably closer to 145mm x 145mm, which is about 5.5″ square which should work well for my prints that are on 3″ x 5″ paper.

I made two pieces, one of them turned out good. It’s thick enough that no light passes through it…

The other piece, not quite as good. It’s a little thin, and you can see the lighter spots in the photo where it’s a little translucent due to the thinness. Still figuring out the technique. I used an old t-shirt for my couching sheet, but I may need to experiment with other material or break down and actually buy some real sheets.

Overall for a first attempt without really knowing what I’m doing, I think this is a success! If you remember my experiments with home recycling of HDPE this is pretty similar, except it’s with paper, and less heat, and probably more useful for the art I’m creating now.


Large Laser Cut NeoPixel Sign

Over at Brown Dog Gadgets Josh asked for a large sign in the entryway and since we’ve got a large laser cutter (basically 5 foot x 4 foot cutting area) I designed and cut a large wooden sign, stained it all, and then added NeoPixels.

I designed it in Inkscape with finger joints for assembly. The large back piece is the same as the front, just cut without the lettering/logo. I basically made two open boxes that would fit together, sort of like a traditional shoe box where the inside is slightly smaller than the outside. Same here, with the inside being the part that mounts to the wall, and the outside being the cover the slides into place over it.

Here’s the back side glued up and with the NeoPixel strips added. There are just two strips running in parallel along the top and bottom.

The NeoPixel strips connect to a Crazy Circuits Robotics Board running some Arduino code. There’s also a RTC (Real-Time Clock) module so it can turn on and turn off at scheduled times each day. (Which sometimes does not work, so occasionally we have to unplug/replug it.)

I made a few grid lines on the back piece as guides for the mounting hardware. Here it is all lit up and ready for the front cover to be put in place. (You can see the simple fade animation happening. It just repeatedly transitions between colors.)

Here’s the front cover in place! There’s a sheet of light diffusing plastic inside. Actually it’s a bunch of smaller pieces cut up and glued into place as needed wherever there are holes in the front. (It appears I failed to get a photo of this.) You can see a Mini USB cable hanging out the bottom which goes to a 5 volt USB wall wart to provide power.

Here’s a side view showing the thickness. And now for the hack. It did not sit completely flush and sort of tilted a little bit on an angle, perhaps due to warping since it’s suck a large piece of wood.

I ended up drilling a hold and placing a pin (well, a bolt) into the side of the sign to hold the cover in place a bit more securely…

Adding the first pin made the opposite corner pop out a bit. So let’s add another! I colored the bolt heads with a black Sharpie marker so as not to be so distracting since it is silver hardware. Basically we just need to remember to pull out these two pins before removing the cover if we ever need to do any maintenance. It’s been running for four months now, and besides the whole RTC clock not always working right it’s been solid, and it does look nice.

The sign is 1016mm x 508mm x 95mm (or 40″ x 20″ x 3.75″ for you Imperialists!)



Since I got the press up and running I figured I should put it to good use. I made a plate and made a few prints. One of the things I used to do when I did screenprinting was to do a print, add more ink of a different color, print again, and keep it going. In the end you have (usually) brown ink you can’t really put back into a can since you’ve mixed it all up, so I’d usually have a “brown” can of ink.

Anyway, this is a similar process, where you add more ink with each print. Luckily with this type of printing there seems to be less waste.

Since I recently posted about The Process I’m going to take some time with this post to talk about that…

Of course if you like these prints for their visual qualities, cool. That’s great! You can like them for that, but with everything, there is a story… a narrative… and there’s a process.

Often for me, creation is a exploration. I am extremely lucky that a good amount of the art I make does not need to be commercial art. I don’t have to rely on selling it to survive. I often make things, create things, or attempt to bring something into existence because I am curious. I ask “What if…?” and every now and then I have the means to find out. So let’s go for a journey!

I had attended a meeting for QWERTYFEST MKE, which will be an event focused on typewriters, writing, books, and all that stuff. (If you want a diversion, check out this post about my QWERTY Keyboard.) After the meeting I was thinking about typewriters and how back in the 1990s before we had easy access to computers we would go to Kinko’s and use the IBM Selectric typewriters to create type. This was our primitive method of typesetting: Use a typewriter to type, then blow it up on a copier until you had it large. We used this method to make flyers, and zines, and sticker and t-shirt art, or whatever. It was cheap and easy and fast.

Above is the artwork I used for the printing plate. I got this by starting with the one functional typewriter in my house. An old Royal that sits on our mantle. The ribbon is a bit dried up, but I was able to bang out q w e r t y.

I took the paper I typed on and scanned it into my computer using a Brother MFC-L3770CDW Printer/Copier/Scanner. Sadly it’s a digital thing, and you can see scan lines. I did try to blow it up quite a bit. I may have even printed it and scanned it again. Either way I was not pleased with the outcome, so I did not use it. Maybe I can play with the scanner settings a bit? (Fun Fact: I used to do a ton of scanning at my first internship and then job.)

After the poor performance of the Brother (which is actually a really nice printer and okay scanner) I grabbed the USB Digital Microscope on my desk and actually used that to capture the small type. The microscope can (supposedly) magnify 1000 times. I’m not sure that’s accurate, but that’s what it says on the tin. I did end up using this one. I brought the image into Affinity Photo and messed with the levels and made it monochrome as you can see in the stark black & white image further up the page.

After I made the plates and the prints I remembered I got a nice scanner for Dana’s desk. It’s a Canon CanoScan LiDE400 that can do 4800 dpi resolution. Much higher than the 600 dpi my Brother does. You can even see the grain of the paper!

The other method I probably could have used to magnify the type would be to photograph it with my Nikon DSLR. I didn’t think about that until later.

So as I said, it’s a journey. I now have a number of methods to try next time, and have some idea how they will turn out. I can also do the copy and enlarge thing multiple times. The “copy” feature of the Brother allows for 200% enlargement which is… okay I guess. The idea is that with each copy things degrade a bit, and you get type you cannot get by using a digitally created font. You can see that attempt in the image above. Maybe I should have started with that method… (Note: The Brother can do 400% enlargement. It’s in a submenu.)

Lots more to explore here, and I look forward to it!


Provisional Press

Last year I bought a printing press kit from Provisional Press. I used to have access to a press when I worked at the museum, and I’ve also borrowed a press from a friend of mine in the past, but most of my “home made” prints have been done with a baren. (I even 3D printed one.) Can you do prints with a baren? Totally, but using a press does make things much easier and more consistent.

I got the base kit with no extras (more on that later) so that’s what you see in these photos. Once you do the assembly, which consists of gluing and screwing things together, you can add in the metal plate as the base. If you use letterpress the metal base comes in handy, and you can grab some galley magnets but honestly I’ll probably just make my own plates like I normally do.

It comes with two “galley high” blocks, which you use to square things up properly so the roller is consistent across the press. There a process involving adding tape under the inside rails before you screw them in place.

Here’s what the bottom looks like. You’ll see that some things are not jammed tightly together. Maybe because wood can expand and contract over time and based on temperature and humidity? I’m not sure…

Here you can see some (blue) tape sticking out a bit. You basically add strips of tape to get things level with the roller. It didn’t take long, but it’s one of those things you should take your time with and get right, since once you screw things together you probably don’t want to unscrew them.

The roller is a large piece of PVC or “Charlotte” pipe. I used a bit of acetone to remove the red “Charlotte” lettering on it. It’s still slightly visible though, which is fine.

My plates are typically made from 3mm (1/8″) Baltic Birch plywood. I have a pretty good supply of scrap due to the fact we use a ton of it at work and often get strips left over that are around 4″ tall by 24″ long. I tend to cut them into smaller pieces to fit in my laser cutter. Making 3″ x 5″ plates is quick and easy and I can probably make 50 more with the scrap I have on hand right now.

To get the plate to the right height I dropped in a piece of 3/4″ plywood I had lying around, with some old cereal box board and sheets of paper underneath to get just the right height. It works well and if I consistently use the same wood I shouldn’t have to adjust things too much.

Hey, I made a print! You can see I added two pieces of soft felt as my “press blankets” which seemed to work well. The one upgrade I’ve already added is the 9″x17″ Grid Base which I should have grabbed when I ordered but for some reason did not. It makes it much easier to line things up and to clean things up.

About the assembly… It went well, but it did take some time. I think part of it was that since there was gluing involved I really wanted to get things right. The other issue (for me) is that the last few things I’ve built have been CNC machines, where getting things exact and precise is extremely important. This press is… a bit less so in that regard. It’s all wood, but you end up shimming things to get stuff aligned, and it just feels like there’s some wiggle room. Having built one I’m pretty sure I could build another in half the time.

I will recommend this: Watch all the videos and read everything completely before you start the assembly. Some of the parts do not match up exactly, which was confusing for a bit. The videos are not professionally produced, but hey, it’s a DIY kit, so that’s fine. Watch them all before starting.

For the pins that keep the top roller from coming off, I did not glue them in place, as I wanted them to be removable in case I take the top roller part off for some reason. (Maybe for transport.) I just wrapped some tape around them to press fit into place. I did stain the side parts of the top roller section, and thought about staining more of the press, but you should do all that before assembly, and I didn’t want to spend the time doing that. I think it looks pretty good as it is. I mainly stained the side parts because they are 1/4″ laser cut pieces and I just wanted them to look a little nicer.

Oh, if you want to see a bunch of fun stuff from the Provisional Press crew, check out their Instagram account. Also, you can totally build your own! The plans for this press are open source.

I’ll probably do a follow-up post once I’ve got a bit more time into using it. So Stay Tuned!